January 28, 2000 5:50 PM PST

Broadcasters win battle against iCraveTV.com

Internet-based television company iCraveTV.com lost a key legal battle today, as a U.S. judge ordered the company to pull its TV services offline.

The Canadian Web start-up is the target of a full-bore legal attack by American broadcasters and sports leagues, who call it "one of the largest and most brazen thefts of intellectual property ever committed in the United States."

Launched late last year, iCraveTV streams the programming of 17 Canadian and U.S. broadcast TV stations online, uncut and uninterrupted. But it didn't receive permission, angering programmers on both sides of the border.

"We're pleased with the court's decision," said Brian McCarthy, a spokesman for the National Football League, which has succeeded in stopping the company from broadcasting the Super Bowl championship game Sunday.

The legal fight is one of the first signs of what is likely to be an ongoing struggle between traditional programmers and online companies as the Web increasingly becomes a video medium. Many sites have already begun offering original programming of their own--but the attraction of providing proven draws such as sports games, news or network television shows is irresistible.

In the United States, a coalition of broadcasters, cable and movie companies has already asked Congress to block Web firms from gaining rights to their content. Net firms succeeded in blocking that early move, but say the issue will come up in Washington, D.C., again soon.

But iCraveTV has now forced broadcasters' hands, even complicating the issue by applying conflicting national laws to a Net company that operates across borders.

The Canadian company argues that Canada's laws give it the right to retransmit broadcast television signals, in the same way that cable companies and satellite companies do. As long as the company doesn't cut or insert its own commercials into the programming, and ultimately pays copyright holders for their work, iCraveTV's action is completely legal, chief executive Bill Craig says.

But television stations and the studios creating the TV shows say iCraveTV is violating American law. They asked a judge in Pittsburgh, Pa., to pull the company off the digital airwaves.

"(IcraveTV is) seizing billions of dollars of copyrighted television programs and motion pictures and publicly performing them via the Internet to large numbers of persons throughout the United States--without the slightest authorization from any copyright owner," broadcasters said in their lawsuit. That suit includes seven of the major movie studios and three of the four big television Networks.

A U.S. judge granted the plaintiffs' request for a temporary restraining order, effective immediately, which temporarily blocks iCraveTV from transmitting the copyrighted programming into the United States "via the iCraveTV.com site or any other Internet sites or any online facility of any kind."

The judge also ordered iCraveTV to make copies of its Internet server log files available to the plaintiffs by Wednesday and to submit a report to the court indicating their compliance with the order.

Representatives for iCraveTV could not immediately be reached for comment.

The National Football League, which along with the National Basketball association is asking for more than $5 million in damages, was particularly focused on shutting down iCraveTV this weekend, when the Super Bowl championship game will be broadcast.

A full court hearing is expected at a later, undetermined date.

News.com's Corey Grice contributed to this report.

 

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